Chase Manhattan Corp. is rolling out a training program to teach all its employees about ergonomics.

Ergonomics usually refers to the interactions of people with their work environments. With the predominance of computers it has become a major occupational-health concern in service industries.

The "Chase Ergonomic Awareness Program" is designed to teach 34,000 employees the risk factors of ergonomic injuries, their symptoms, and preventive steps.

"We believe this program will improve comfort in the workplace and will lead to an increase in productivity and morale throughout our operation," said Linda Elwood, vice president of corporate technology and information services. "This teaches people how to get the most out of the workplace and be comfortable while they are working."

While there is not yet a national standard on ergonomics, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is in the process of developing guidelines for employers.

Cheryl Brolin, a spokeswoman at OSHA in Washington, said its guidelines will promote more productive environments and save money on work-related injuries and compensation.

"The standard will allow employers to go through a checklist to determine if they have a problem," said Ms. Brolin. "It is nonsense that people think that to provide an ergonomically sound environment entails buying all new equipment and spending lots of money. In actuality, it will allow employers to save money because it will reduce worker compensation claims."

Ms. Brolin said it is still unclear when the U.S. standard will be published.

Theodore Braun, director of ergonomic service at Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. in Boston, said there is a trend in corporate America to make workplaces more ergonomically sound.

"Firms throughout the country are moving toward purchasing new styles of furniture which are flexible and provide employees with customized workstations," he said. "Companies are also changing hardware and other things to make it easier for employees to complete their jobs."

Ms. Elwood said that in 1994, Chase had less than 35 work-related injuries worldwide and paid out under $100,000 in worker compensation claims.

Chase has spent just under $500,000 and 18 months developing the education project and is the first of New York's major banks to have instituted this type of program.

"It is not rocket science and in some cases the subject can be quite boring," said Ms. Elwood. "What we have done is come up with a humorous video and brochure that illustrates what to do to improve comfort in individual workstations as well as provides an education on ergonomic traumas."

Ms. Elwood said most of the work-related injuries that have the potential to occur in offices are repetitive or cumulative traumas, which tend to occur after an employee performs the same activity over a long period of time.

"The goal of the program is to fit the job to the person, rather than making the person fit the job," said Ms. Elwood.

Chase plans on having all of its employees complete the training by the end of 1996.

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